Since the season four finale, Veep fans have been preparing for the twist teased throughout season five, Tom James’ finagling of Constitutional fine print to become the acting president after neither Selina nor Senator O’Brien manage to be elected by the House of Representatives. Instead, showrunner David Mandel goes another way, surprising both Selina and the audience when Senator Laura Montez becomes the acting president, sending Selina off to start a new chapter in her life. And there will be another chapter. HBO picked Veep up for season six before this season premiered, and Mandel has already confirmed the upcoming season will pick up with Selina post-presidency. “Inauguration” has an incredibly surreal feel to it, very consciously putting the viewers in Selina’s shoes. We keep waiting for a twist or last-minute save, for the episode to be revealed as a dream sequence or even an alternate timeline. But alas, there’s nothing to be done. Montez won’t be reaching across the aisle and including Selina in her administration, Selina’s subconscious didn’t whip up a nightmare scenario to torture her while she’s passed out at Richard’s feet. The unthinkable has happened: Selina has lost the presidency, and Veep will never be the same.
“Kissing Your Sister” is one of the series’ best and funniest showcases for its ensemble cast; “Inauguration” had a steep hill to climb if it wanted to compete. Instead, the writers deliver a comparatively subdued finale, more concerned with sending each character off into the sunset satisfyingly than giving them each a final, memorable moment. The exception, of course, is Gary, who has a rather spectacular meltdown and lashes out at the rest of Selina’s staff. It’s a fun scene and Tony Hale is great as ever. On the whole, though, the finale is a quiet affair, with Selina more contemplative than cutting. One of the best shots of the episode is one of its last, Selina in the rain, the Washington monument behind her, and listening to the inauguration celebrations for President Montez. The director holds on Selina as she wonders what comes next, what can possibly follow the culmination of her life’s work and the fulfillment, and then quick loss, of her childhood dreams. Yes, Selina is frequently horrible, but in that moment, she is human, and it’s hard not to feel for her.
Selina’s emotional journey through the finale works well, but other elements are less successful. While Mandel and the rest of the creative team have been building to this finale all season, they never quite manage to sell the most important element of the process, the Senate’s Vice Presidential choice ascending to the presidency, rather than acting in the role until the House can revote on the issue and select a president. The mislead of Selina potentially returning to the Vice Presidency keeps viewers off the scent of where Mandel is actually headed, but it feels like a contrivance too many for this usually savvy series. “Inauguration” is has a number of questionable moments, from Tom James offering Selina the vice presidency (instead of someone who could actively bolster his position) to President Montez’s pronunciation of “Laura,” which seems like it would do more to hurt her position with Latino voters than help it. Both scenes are funny and the actors sell the material well, but they contribute to the episode’s disconnected, unreal feeling. The fates have conspired against Selina and characters are acting outside of their self-interest to make her loss of power as humiliating as possible. As a series finale, it’s an effective way to go. As the launching pad for a new season, it’s a little worrying.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus has proven time and again how talented and versatile she is, moving from one successful show to another and excelling each time. Undoubtedly whatever season six brings, if Louis-Dreyfus is at the center, it will be incredibly entertaining. However Veep is not just the Selina show, and the prospect of a Selina, Gary, and Catherine-centric season six, with only occasional intersections between Selina and her former team, is disheartening. Equally puzzling is the notion of a season six that attempts to keep up with or reunite the fractured Team Meyer while still giving adequate time to Selina’s new life. This feels like the natural time for the series to end, with Mandel free to write a Selina spinoff if he and Louis-Dreyfus still want to explore the character. And maybe that’s what season six will be, functionally. If not, puzzling as this finale may be, Mandel has earned some trust after his fantastic work this season. If so, “Inauguration” is a fitting, if sober, end to what has been a consistently hilarious series.
- Only a handful of lines pulled a full-on laugh from me, but two that did are Amy’s, “Too bad Goebbels killed himself” and Catherine’s, “You’re gonna do something with your hair, right?” The line of the episode, however, goes to Dan Bakkedahl for Congressman Furlong’s description of Jonah and his interns, “cockscraping each other’s esophagi.”
- The vice presidential candidates winding up in contention for the presidency is a stretch, but one almost singlehandedly justified by Doyle being able to cast the deciding vote that kicks Selina out of office.
- If this is the last we see of Selina’s staffers, it’s nice to know that the romantically frustrated Amy may have found a significant other she likes and who will treat her much better than Dan ever would. Mike will also be much happier as a stay at home dad than press secretary and of course, Sue is immediately back to work, keeping the next administration running smoothly.
- As for characters not getting the happiest of send-offs, Selina’s hope that the rain will at least put a damper on Montez’s day is great, but the discovery of an unfortunately located lump on Jonah trumps that handily. Poor Jonah, if only he’d followed his own advice: “Check ‘em. Don’t neglect ‘em.”
- Ben and Kent’s brief exchange about Sue’s absence is welcome; at least the writers acknowledged their sidelining of Sue. Also, as if his affinity for data weren’t enough, Kent earns an even bigger place in my heart when he reveals his love of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
- I have no idea what season six of Veep will bring, but thank you to everyone who followed along with The A.V. Club’s coverage of season five. It’s been a pleasure.